ACL 1001: Reading Contemporary Fiction

ACL 1001: Reading
Contemporary Fiction
Lecture 1: Introduction
Coordinator: Dr Rose Lucas
[email protected]
All powerpoint slides from lectures will be available at
Reading Contemporary Fiction
• In this unit, we will be reading and discussing literature
published after 1970, and reading books that challenge
traditional ideas about ‘great literature’.
• The ‘great texts’ have also been defined as making up
the literary canon. The ‘literary canon’ is a collection of
literature deemed to be ‘good’ based on particular
societal values.
• What kind of literature do you think makes up ‘the
Why Contemporary Fiction?
• The interesting thing about the formation of a
literary canon of ‘great and serious works is that it
tends to omit the experiences of people who were
unable to gain a literary audience before the
middle of the 20th Century.
• What kind of authors do you imagine have been
left out of the literary canon?
• Is this a problem?
The Literary Canon and Cultural Studies
• What is important to realise is that the literary canon intimates
that ‘great works’ are only:
• Written by certain people
• (Educated, middle-class, heterosexual, white, often men)
• About certain topics
• (The world, war, the human condition, love, loss, death)
• And in certain ways
• (Written following the conventions of realism: texts that follow
beginning, middle and end or conflict, climax, resolution
Literature and Cultural Studies
• The are two major problems of defining ‘great works’ in this
way. We are privileging a small and select group of authors,
AND we are judging what is relevant or important to our
culture by focussing on the experiences prevalent in those
• One of the most significant ideas in literary studies is that
texts (books, movies, television shows etc) are cultural
products. That is, they reflect the culture in which they are
produced. The text is a broad category.
• As Jonathon Culler writes: ‘cultural studies includes and
encompasses literary studies, examining literature as a
particular cultural practice’ (1997, p.43).
Cultural Studies and Ideology
• The aim of this unit is to expose you to ideas that may not
be prevalent in the literary canon, but are important to
everyday life.
• Much of the unit will focus on critiquing the dominant
ideologies that we see in literature, and in the culture around
• Ideology, for the purposes of this unit, ‘is used to refer to our
ideas and beliefs, the collective and common beliefs of the
whole culture. To put it more forcefully, cultural studies
understands ideology as the network of ideas and beliefs
through which culture and its members, order, represent and
make sense of reality’ (Farmer, 2003, p.17).
A quick case in point: Lego
Lego and Gender
• What do you think of the differences between these
• Why are the toys being marketed in this way? Is this
difference natural or is it ‘culturally constructed’?
• What if we did this:
Reading Contemporary Fiction
• One of the reasons for teaching texts that have been
written since the 1970s is that this was a critical
period in Western history as it saw the rise of
women’s rights, the gay movement and the civil rights
• In this unit, we will explore themes such as:
The Unit Structure
• The unit is structured into two modules:
The first six weeks will be looking at issues of identity and
ideology surrounding gender and sexuality. The texts for
this module are Tony Birch’s Blood and Siri Hustvedt’s The
Summer without Men.
• The second module (from week seven to week twelve) will
be dealing with issues of race and class. The texts for this
module are Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby and Zadie Smith’s
White Teeth.
• Throughout the semester we will also look at different ways
of writing texts, focussing on realism as well as more
experimental forms of writing.
The Unit Format
• The Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory
has been set to assist you with understanding some
of the more complex material.
• Students must attend a 1 hour lecture and a 2 hour
tutorial per week.
• Students must do the Essential Readings before each
tutorial class. There is also an appendix in the Unit
Reader with further readings (including the
Recommended Readings). These will be helpful for
planning your essays and giving you extra material to
assist with understanding the set texts.
• Read the four set novels – start now if you haven’t
already and read them in order: Blood, The Summer
without Men, Tar Baby, White Teeth.
• Make sure you also read the Essential Readings set for
each week. Not only will these form the basis of class
discussions some week, but the rationale is that we are
always reading literature in the context of prevailing
ideas. These readings will not just help you with the
novels, but help us think about the general business of
writing, reading and points of view.
Tutorial Presentation (20%)
In-class Assessment (20%)
Short Essay (20%)
Long Essay (40%)
Students must complete all assessments in order to
pass the unit.
Tutorial Presentation
• You are required to give a tutorial presentation on one of
the week’s topics. Which week you are to focus on will be
decided in your first tutorial with your tutor. In this
presentation, you MUST NOT only summarise the
week’s tutorial readings, you should also present new
material, raise issues which enhance your tutorial group’s
understanding of the week’s topic, and have at least three
questions to ask the tutorial group at the end of your
presentation. You should ensure you fully cover the tutorial
topic, answering the question for that week in this outline.
• Remember to reference all your source material. If
you are using PowerPoint, there should be a list of
references on the last slide. If you are not using
PowerPoint, you must still hand in your references.
Tutorial Presentation (cont’d)
• The tutorial presentation should be 10-15 minutes in
length. Students are encouraged to use visual aids,
such as PowerPoint slides, when it is practical and
appropriate to do so. Students who fail to attend
class on the day of their presentation will be given a
mark of 0 unless they have medical certification.
• It’s vital that you talk to the students who are also
presenting in your week so that you are all covering
different books and questions.
• Due Date: The tutorial that corresponds with the
chosen topic.
• Weighting: 20%
In-class Assessment
• These assessments will be set in weeks three, five,
eight and ten, and will consist of short answers and
multiple choice. Each assessment will take ten
minutes to complete. Each assessment is worth 5%
and will be based on the material provided in
lectures and readings. Students must attend each
assessment, and can only be excused with a
medical certificate for the relevant date.
• Due Date: In Class
• Weighting: 4x5%
• 20% Total
Short Essay
• The short essay will be your first opportunity to apply the
theoretical concepts of gender and sexuality to the first two
novels covered in the unit: Tony Birch’s Blood and Siri
Hustvedt’s The Summer without Men.
• It is essential that you draw upon the theoretical material
provided in the Unit Reader when responding to the essay
question, and that you back up your ideas with quotes from the
texts. While reference must be made to both texts, it is
acceptable to examine one of the novels in more detail than
the other. A hard copy and an electronic copy MUST be
• Due Date: Wednesday April 16, 4pm
• Word Length: 1200-1500 words
• Weighting: 20%
Long Essay
• For the long essay students are given a choice of three questions;
all of which refer to Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby and Zadie Smith’s
White Teeth. Students are asked to focus on either race, gender
or literary conventions in their essay.
• It is essential that you draw upon the theoretical material
provided in the Unit Reader when responding to the essay
question and also demonstrate that you have done further
research. The long essay MUST include at least three references
from academic texts found in and through the library (not internet
sites). All texts consulted must be properly referenced using the
Harvard System.
• Due Date: Friday May 23, 4pm
• Word Length: 2000 words
• Weighting: 40%
• Handing in assignments: Assignments must be
submitted on the due date with a completed assignment
cover sheet. Assignments should be submitted in class on
the due date or delivered to your tutor’s mailbox by 5pm
on the due date. A hard copy and an electronic copy
MUST be submitted for both essays.
• Extensions: Extensions for assignments are granted on
medical or compassionate grounds only. Some form of
documentation must be provided. Not planning your
work schedule in relation to other assignments is
insufficient grounds for an extension. Requests must be
made to your tutor, in writing, prior to the due date.
• Penalties for late assignments: Work submitted
late without an extension will be penalised at a rate of
one mark per day for a period of one week (5 working
days). Work submitted more than five working days
late without an extension will be graded on a pass/fail
basis only, with no corrections or comments.
• Special consideration: If you feel that illness or
personal difficulties have impaired your performance
you may ask for Special Consideration which can
facilitate late submission, and alternative
arrangements for assignments. This can cover both
emotional and physical difficulties.
A note on learning
• Much of what you will encounter in this unit will be new
and may initially be difficult to understand.
• Please be patient – learning is a slow process, and it
might take you several readings to get what a text is
actually saying.
• Enjoy the unit – it is designed to challenge your preconceived ideas about ‘literature’ and the ‘literary’.
• Ask for help – from your tutors, through Academic Skills,
and in the library. There are student writing mentors
available through the library and they are an excellent
For tutorials

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